Note: Having previously talked in brief about the history of Appleseed for last year‘s feature article I shall refer the reader to that to save any major repetition here. I will go into a little more depth in other departments though.
The year is 2031 and the world is rebuilding itself after a global war. Earth’s last city, Olympus was created by Bioroids - artificial clones that make up half of its population who bring balance to its society. Olympus’s central operating system is Gaia - a super artificial brain that oversees this utopia and aids toward unifying Humans and Bioroids. While on the surface things appear calm, underground forces are working hard at eradicating all Bioroid life. Military terrorists make a move that sees them going head to head with the government and the ES.W.A.T. forces, led by Deunan Knute. Deunan - a war hero, captured and taken to the new city wakes up with no idea about its functioning. She soon learns about Olympus’s goal before meeting up with her ex-lover, Briareos Hecatonchries; a solider who almost died in battle and has survived through Bioroid technology, making him unrecognisable. Deunan must come to terms with Briareos’s condition and take charge in an assault to track down this group of terrorists who threaten all Bioroids. With the help of her new friend, Hitomi and Mechanic, Yoshitsune can the key to Olympus’s survival see to it in time that all is not lost?
So here it finally is, the animated event of the past year has reached US shores on DVD and the burning question is “Has the wait been worth it for those gripped by the stunning Japanese trailers“? To put it quite simply in terms of technical achievement, yes it has. Appleseed is visually like no other film before it and credit when credit’s due, the Japanese move the industry forward in leaps and bounds. It’s come a long way in just a few short years; the sheer amount of hard work put into developing the technology has paid off and although it may not look human-like on the surface it showcases some of the most realistic animation seen to date. Pixar and Dreamworks had made some progress in recent years and they’ll tell you just how human their creations are, but upon viewing this latest CG masterpiece all of that talk is blown out of the water. By using motion capture for every single character and utilising it to its fullest abilities director, Shinji Aramaki and his amazing team present a quite awe inspiring feature that has set a new benchmark, and from here animators all over are going to have a hell of a time bettering it. Furthermore with two more films in the pipeline this is just a taster of things to come.
But its realism would end there. Aramaki and CG director, Yasuhiro Otsuka know the limitations and staying true to its roots the film maintains a faithful anime/manga look. Trying to push boundaries can only go so far and films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within show that trying to emulate realistic human emotion can prove to be detrimental - alienating an audience. Steering clear from any kind of haunting visuals in that sense means that Appleseed (not that it attempts anything of the like) can get on with doing what it does best and as a fusion between traditional animation and computer rendered techniques it achieves far more than the likes of Wonderful Days, which promised a perfect example of combining the two mediums but was quite flawed in its execution. It might appear daunting at first and that would be understandable as these people look like porcelain inhabitants; there’s an often plastic like quality to skin tones which become easily adjusted to, in fact after ten minutes or so once the viewer begins to settle down to the novelty of the film's aesthetics.
Aside from its Human and Bioroid characters the film serves up a series of amazing action sequences that not only out marvel several of Hollywood’s biggest features but are filled with such imagination and scope that if you blink you’ll miss so many details. Mech design is brilliant, consisting of some real beasts for our heroes to contend with, as well as ES.W.A.T’s own arsenal; watching them go into battle is exciting stuff. Explosions are huge; the sound is ear shattering and in capturing a real sense of frenzied war within the huge utopia of Olympus Appleseed succeeds at drawing us in for every frame of onscreen mayhem. Helping out the action in full force is an eclectic mixture of Tetsuya Takahashi’s scoring and some of the biggest musicians working today; with the likes of The Boom Boom Satellites, Paul Oakenfold, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Basement Jaxx (with their hugely popular and catchy “Good Luck” from 2003). There’s never a dull moment to be found - Appleseed has one of the finest soundtracks of the year that works tremendously well, both in the confines of the film and in your own home.
Shame then that similar praise cannot be said for other areas, which could have done with the same kind of care that was put into the film's visuals.
It’s very easy to get carried away with Appleseed. It is a beautiful piece of work; there has never been anything like it before and purely on the basis of its visuals alone I could mark it ten out of ten. But then that wouldn’t be very proper because as wonderful as the film looks it has a few ineffective moments during its storytelling.
Appleseed was the very first Manga I read, back when Manga first published it, and I don‘t read that much Manga. Around the same time I also saw the original movie (one of my first) which was hardly awful but certainly lacked scale. Forward on all these years and we come to a film that is different, yet shares similarities to that very first feature in terms of lack of development and key sequences. Being a trilogy we have the first of Shirow’s work squashed into a relatively slight runtime, that is if you hope to ever carry over as much of its commentary as you can. The problem is that Appleseed, despite being a very talkative film is still only interesting in terms of its fast paced visuals, leaving a lot of moments that lag. Expecting a perfect adaptation would be silly for one film and here there is a considerable amount of simplification, that is if you are already accustomed to the standards of the original story. Those unversed may still find themselves at loggerheads with the developing plot when it comes to its political intrigue, whilst on the other hand its inevitable twists and philosophies are a little too worn by today‘s standards anyway and may not resonate quite so well as they perhaps did twenty years ago. Masamune Shirow has always followed a similar code throughout his works so it comes as no surprise to see familiar themes of utopian societies and political upheavals, but sadly neither is addressed here in any interesting way, not when in the end we’re just getting another message about mankind having to learn to co-exist and maintain a peaceful world.
For every moment that Appleseed amazes onscreen it just about drags for every other moment of exposition. Dialogue is drawn out far beyond its welcome, characters often perform in the most clichéd of ways with many of them glossed over, doing little to cater for our emotional needs when it is the very thing that is supposed to be tested. When Hitomi asks Deunan what it is to love a familiar and yawn inducing moment transpires. It’s that eternal question which often finds its way into Sci-Fi above all things and in some instances doesn’t come across quite so well, especially when here it is for a fleeting moment that in the end can‘t obviously provide any answer. As we move further we learn more about Deunan and Briareos’s deep relationship (another tweaked part), so haphazardly revisited from time to time that its played out like tacked on element and come some of the film’s more poignant and tragic moments it not so much forces us to care deeply for either character but rather it has already created a barrier denying us from anything truly wrenching. In fact for a good 20-minutes at its half-way point Appleseed is nothing but a series of pieces designed to get the viewer all gooey eyed, entering ultra-melodrama for which it just can’t help but cheese things up - another example coming in the form when Deunan witnesses the holographic death of her mother. Considering that Appleseed is the first in a proposed trilogy of which the second is currently in production as I write this, it is a little disappointing in that the film is an uneven mixture of spectacular heroics and forced emotions. Even with a run time of 105-minutes, of which equal emphasis is placed on its social message it feels too long when the more "important" material is wasted, but then when the film opens with a frantic action sequence it comes as no surprise that the viewer will just keep wanting more and more, for which it continually manages to top itself each time.
Geneon have gone all out with their US distribution of the film. It’s a little disappointing that they’ve chosen to release a standard edition alongside a more worthy 2-disc collection, but for those less concerned with extras it’s a reasonable purchase that retains a couple of interesting bits. For our review Geneon have supplied us with the standard single disc release that comes in an attractive and image embossed card slipcase. Of further note the 2-disc version also includes an English DTS track that has been excised from this release.
Presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio Appleseed looks quite marvellous. When released in Japan last year the transfer suffered from an awful amount of Edge Enhancement and contrast boosting. Geneon have actually managed to out perform that edition this time round with no signs of Edge Enhancement, while keeping natural contrast levels. A comparison can be seen below but it is worth noting that the Japanese edition has no subtitles.
At first glance the Japanese edition appears to be more appeasing but on closer inspection you will notice that there is no more additional detail in either shot, despite the R2’s sharpness which is in this case forced.
Moving on then, the film looks spectacular on a television set; with fine detail and strong black levels. not to mention superb colour rendering. There is very little to fault this transfer aside from the usual issues that plague digital productions on DVD. Banding is a recurring factor. For those who aren’t familiar with the terms that often rears its head on many anime series or CG heavy films this consists of lines that appear on shaded portions of an image, or when one colour blends into the next, seen often on metallic surfaces, skylines or skin tones. Aside from that there is very little to fault. Appleseed is as close to perfect as you’ll get for an animated DVD presentation.
For sound the disc is nothing short of stunning. We have a choice of Japanese 5.1 Surround, Japanese 5.1 DTS and English 5.1 Surround. For this review I went with the DTS option. Let me just say that Appleseed needs surround and considering that Geneon haven’t provided a 2.0 stereo option then you might find the experience a little lacking if you don’t have a home cinema set up. To briefly explain, on an average 2-channel TV the sound is awkwardly separated. As such dialogue can be quiet, while action sequences are all over the place, notable during machinegun fire where things struggle. Back to the DTS we have brilliantly separated channels. Dialogue is forwarded fine, while sound effects and music are as immersing as any blockbuster. Gunfire carries itself from left to right and the central channel adds an amazing amount of oomph, particularly with the subwoofer going. Explosions are satisfying, engines roar and rooms shatter all in the most spectacular of ways.
The English dub will likely be of some interest to some so let’s get onto that. With no messing about and no purist allegiance toward the Japanese track I can easily say that this is fairly lacklustre. When it needs to be intense the Japanese cast do well, even if it never reaches its intended heights, naturally with its own amount of overacting at times. These moments are performed less than admirably by the US vocal artists. Now I have a soft spot for the original OAV dub, although it was far from perfect so I’d have liked to have seen Larissa Murray and William Roberts return to their roles here; as with a finer direction they could have eased back into things. We have a new cast this time around, with Jennifer Proud (who also goes by Amanda Winn Lee) and James Lyon (Jamieson Price) taking the lead roles. Lyon isn’t too bad as he goes for the quieter soul approach as opposed to an overly butch one that could so easily have happened. Proud on the other hand is a little more mishap. She’s quite flat throughout, even when called to get more emotional during key scenes. The rest of the cast range from dull to acceptable, with Mia Bradley’s Hitomi character coming across as just another stereotypical and overly cute performance (though in fairness Yuki Matsuoka isn’t much different) and Hades (whose name I can’t match to the US dub artist) in contrast to his Japanese interpretation is notably weaker, sounding like a gravely hammy bad man who likes to raise his voice alot. One of the more frustrating things about this dub and other English dubs for that matter is the constant mix up in character name pronunciations. For example, Jeniffer Proud seems to struggle with Briareos’s name, particularly when raising the emotional bar, while simpler names are pronounced less than effectively from other actors. If these can’t be directed 100% perfectly in the first place then they might as well change the names and just call Briareos “Dave” or something.
Optional English subtitles are included. These are of the usual bold and yellow variety that Geneon so often use for their anime series. These are well timed and read well.
Audio Commentary with director, Shinji Aramaki and producer, Fumihiko Sori
The commentary consists largely of the producer and directing talking about how painstaking the process was, using the toon shader application and having to constantly tweak things within a tight schedule. Every so often they will reflect upon a scene and then explain how they needed to capture the right tone and if a character behaved as well as they hoped. There were times when certain takes were deemed useless and animations had to be fixed from scratch amongst other things; here a lot of praise is given out to the animation team. The pair talk about trying to fit in as much of the story as possible in addition to several alterations that they decided upon in order to allow things to progress more smoothly. They seem proud of the way that the storyline had been dealt with, whilst having a few minor reservations about certain areas of animation. While it starts off ok it does border on slight repetition later on, but there is a fair amount of interesting comments strung throughout.
Music Cues with Scenes
This is a chance to view every scene that features a musical number as a separate piece. It’s kind of pointless and would have been better replaced by a proper soundtrack listing.
Although brief this is a good collection of mini biographies belonging to creator Masamune Shirow, director Shinji Aramaki, producer Fumihiko Sori, CG producer Yusaku Toyoshima, CG director Yasuhiro Ohtsuka and composer Tetsuya Takahashi.
“Appleseed” Original Soundtrack CM
This is a 30-second TV spot, promoting the soundtrack release.
Introductions for other Geneon titles that include Samurai Champloo, Tenjho Tenge, Fafner, Gankutsuou, Paranoia Agent and Kyo Kara Maoh!
Appleseed marks a new era in animation; it is a stunning piece of work, no two ways about it. The medium has become revolutionized and CG artists will now be finding new ways to outdo each other in the future. Any respecting anime fan will owe it to themselves to see this, and while it can be hailed as a masterpiece it would be for the obvious reasons; but no amount of gorgeous eye candy can prevent the fact that what we end up with is a very standardized and un-involving plot (even if you haven’t read the Manga or unless you‘ve never seen or read a story about human existence and philosophy), derived from Shirow’s far greater writings. Still, roll on the sequel. The bar has been raised.
Last updated: 20/04/2018 00:11:40